Arson suspected as fires break out near settlement twice in a week
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Arson suspected as fires break out near settlement twice in a week

Kfar Etzion’s grove, cherry orchard damaged in series of blazes amid uptick in agricultural hate crimes in the West Bank

A cherry tree torched in an apparent hate crime attack in the settlement of Kfar Etzion on May 23, 2018. (Yaron Rosenthal/Kfar Etzion Field School)
A cherry tree torched in an apparent hate crime attack in the settlement of Kfar Etzion on May 23, 2018. (Yaron Rosenthal/Kfar Etzion Field School)

A number of fires broke out near the Kfar Etzion settlement on Friday, in the second suspected arson attack targeting the West Bank settlement this week.

Firefighters managed to put out the flames before they spread to a cherry orchard that had already been heavily damaged by a fire on Tuesday. According to the Haaretz daily, the firefighters said the fires appeared to have been set intentionally.

Yaron Rosenthal, the director of the Kfar Etzion’s field school, told the paper the fire damaged hundreds of trees in a nearby grove.

On Tuesday, vandals set fire to Kfar Etzion’s cherry orchard, causing thousands of shekels in damage, days ahead of the Gush Etzion Regional Council’s annual cherry festival.

Local residents accused Palestinians from the nearby village of Beit Ummar of starting the fires. The Gush Etzion Regional Council said local settlements were the targets of “repeated, organized attacks by Arab rioters” in recent months.

Police opened an investigation into the incident, but have not commented on possible suspects or motive.

Hebrew graffiti reading “enough of the agricultural terror” and “we will reach every place” found at the scene of an apparent price-tag attack in the Palestinian village of Ad-Deirat on May 23, 2018. (Tag Meir)

The fires at Kfar Etzion come amid an unpick in agricultural hate crimes between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank in recent months.

On Tuesday, a wheat field in the Palestinian village of Ad-Deirat outside of Hebron was set ablaze and hate slogans in Hebrew were found graffitied on the walls of one of the homes.

The graffiti read “enough of the agriculture terror,” — a phrase Israeli farmers have used to describe attacks on their crops allegedly carried out by Palestinians — and “we will reach every place.”

On Wednesday, Palestinian farmers in the Hebron area said two acres of their vineyard had been destroyed for the second time in under a week. Farmers in Halhul said 400 grapevines were cut down and found threatening graffiti in Hebrew nearby. Photos taken by B’Tselem human rights group showed the Hebrew phrase “We will reach every place” spray-painted on a boulder at the scene.

Recent months have seen many attacks against Palestinians, including the chopping down of dozens of olive trees, the torching of a mosque, stones thrown through car windows, the slashing of tires, and graffiti calling for the murder of Arabs. Police are investigating the various crimes, but no arrests have been reported.

Israeli settlers also suffered property damage in at least one April incident blamed on Palestinians. Some 150 grapevines in a vineyard belonging to a resident of the Jordan Valley settlement of Tomer were chopped down overnight.

A pair of memorials built in the northern West Bank in memory of settlers killed in Palestinian terror attacks have also been vandalized in recent weeks.

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